For more than 30 years, gay men in the U.S. have been prevented from donating blood due to a misplaced fear of HIV transmission. Despite an extensive screening process, men who have had sex with another man within the last year are turned away, even when the need for donors is great, like after tragedies like the Pulse nightclub shooting in Orlando two years ago, when many victims needed blood transfusions.
A 12-month "deferral," as the policy is referred to, is a de facto ban on gay men, as it's ridiculous to require potential donors to remain celibate for a year beforehand. It's also discriminatory, as it's based solely on sexuality. Straight donors who may have been exposed to HIV are allowed, as are queer women. It's simply a holdover from the days when HIV was considered to be a "gay disease." Without the ban, more than 600,000 additional pints of blood could be collected each year.
Today, on World Blood Donor Day, Mother New York is calling for the ban to be overturned and literally put its blood into an initiative to draw attention to the issue. The "Blood is Blood" t-shirt is printed with ink made from blood donated by gay male employees at the agency's offices in New York and London. The reasoning is, if they can't put their blood to good use in hospitals, why not use it to draw attention to their cause. The project is a partnership with Callen-Lorde, a pioneering LGBTQ healthcare provider.
British artist Stuart Semple was given the blood, which he mixed into an custom-created ink for use in screen printing. The resulting shirts say "This shirt was printed with the blood of gay men" and are now being sold exclusively at The Phluid Project, a community center and retail outlet in New York City that opened earlier this year to promote authentic expression. Only 100 of the $75 shirts were printed, and all proceeds go to Callen-Lorde.
The images above were shot by DiChen Chen and feature 10-year-old LGBTQ advocate and drag kid Desmond Napoles.